According to Reuters, “Some U.S. doctors are becoming concerned about the quality of generic drugs supplied by Indian manufacturers following a flurry of recalls and import bans by the Food and Drug Administration.”
"I'm just beginning to realize the gravity of the problem," said Dr. Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. "It's terrible and it is starting to get a lot of traction among physicians."
(Maybe he can do a meta-analysis.)
India's drugmakers, a $14 billion industry, reject any criticism that their products are inferior to drugs made in other countries.
"We have heard doctors making generalized statements, without being specific on any product or company," said D.G. Shah, Secretary General of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, a trade group representing large Indian drugmakers. "This is a deliberate and serious campaign to malign the Indian generic industry."
Denial, it seems, is more than just a river in Egypt.
"We are losing control over what people are swallowing," said Dr. Harry Lever, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who is trying raise awareness of the matter among U.S. lawmakers. "Now, when a patient comes in who is not doing well, the first thing I do is look at their drugs and find out who makes it."
FDA is addressing these concerns by establishing an Office of Pharmaceutical Quality to improve the agency’s scrutiny of brand-name, generic and over-the-counter drugs. The agency is talking with the industry to develop data that may signal which manufacturing plants are straying from standards and need inspection, she said.
FDA now collects such information only during inspections. The thrust of the effort would be to head off potential concerns before the agency wields penalties such as banning products from troubled factories. According to CDER Director, Dr. Janet Woodcock, “We want to use leading indicators. These people aren’t in trouble yet but they could be.”
And, per Commissioner Peggy Hamburg, “All companies must understand that quality is the basis for the public’s trust and confidence in their products and maintaining high quality standards is part of the cost of doing business.” Hamburg said the new office will “improve our oversight of quality throughout the lifecycle of a pharmaceutical product.”
Some Indian physicians do not share these concerns.
"Our drugs are being sold in many countries and being accepted, so we have no issues," said Narendra Saini, Secretary General of the Indian Medical Association, a voluntary body of 215,000 doctors. "How do I know that Western drugs are better than our drugs?"
Not so. The truth is that nation’s across the globe are uncovering serious issues with products manufactured in India. This is particularly true for generic oncology medicines -- where there isn’t room for error.
It’s too simplistic to call these “quality” problems. There’s a range from sub-standard API and manufacturing issues, to excipient changes and, most importantly, bioequivalence and bioavailability standards.
Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, said he is concerned about the quality of generic drugs in general, not just those from India. He cited, as an example, his experience with the diabetes drug metformin.
"When patients open the bottle of medication it smells like dead fish," he said. Zonszein did not know which company made the foul-smelling drug.
Dr. Richard Kovacs, who heads a number of American College of Cardiology committees and sits on its board of trustees, said doctors may need to play a greater role monitoring the medications prescribed by their practices.
"The average U.S. cardiologist has been able to assume that the drugs were safe and effective. It now appears we need to be more vigilant as a profession, and assist the FDA by reporting cases where we are concerned about irregularities in the drugs supplied to our patients," he said.
FDA’s recent draft guidances on bioequivalence for both generic and innovator products, as well as the move towards independent labeling for generic products are additional steps the agency has recently taken to address the issue of drug quality beyond safety and efficacy. And the implications for biosimilars is obvious
(Something else to consider is for the FDA to report BE and BA and PK data in generic labels.)
Small is the new Big means we must think differently about pharmacovigilance. While we must continue to capture adverse event data, we must also strive to capture Substandard Pharmaceutical Events (SPEs). SPEs occur when a product does not perform as expected—perhaps because of API or excipient issues. SPEs can arise because of an issue related to therapeutic interchangeability. When it comes to 21st-century pharmacovigilance, we have to both broaden and narrow our views about bioequivalence to the patient level.